Paul Quarrington, 1953–2010

I apol­o­gize up front; this may be a ram­bling post.

For those you haven’t heard, Cana­di­an author (among many oth­er careers) Paul Quar­ring­ton died this morn­ing at the age of 56. He had been suf­fer­ing from lung can­cer for some time, but his pass­ing was still a sud­den blow.

I bare­ly knew Paul. I met him in per­son only one time, at a read­ing in Win­nipeg, but I found him a very warm and approach­able man. He had read (and remem­bered) my com­pli­men­ta­ry review in the Win­nipeg Free Press of his nov­el Galve­ston, and we chat­ted for a few moments as he signed the five or so nov­els of his I had brought along. I remem­ber rec­om­mend­ing Taras Grescoe’s The End of Else­where as being a com­pan­ion piece of sorts to his mem­oir The Boy on the Back of the Tur­tle. I thought he might enjoy Grescoe’s sense of humour.

A few years lat­er, I con­tact­ed Paul by email to ask if he would con­sent to blurb my nov­el Shelf Mon­key. I felt that he had been an influ­ence on my style, and hoped against hope that some­one I admired so intense­ly might actu­al­ly like my work. I was delight­ed when he accept­ed, and see­ing his words and name on my back cov­er was a thrill on a lev­el I’ve rarely expe­ri­enced.

When Paul was diag­nosed with can­cer, I did not con­tact him. I have had some deal­ings with can­cer in my imme­di­ate fam­i­ly, and know the ter­ri­ble toll it takes on both the patient and those around him. I could not find the words to con­vey my sor­row at his con­di­tion; I had grown to hate the plat­i­tudes and hom­i­lies I received from oth­ers when in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances, and could not find it in myself to repeat them. So, I remained silent, imag­in­ing that I would some­day find the right way to express myself.

I missed my chance, and Paul nev­er knew the deep admi­ra­tion I held for him, both as a writer and as a per­son. He seemed like a gen­uine­ly good fel­low; flawed, most def­i­nite­ly, but by all accounts a very nice guy. And I am a huge fan of his work; in the best of his nov­els (Whale Music, of course, but also Civ­i­liza­tion, Galve­ston, The Ravine, and my per­son­al favourite Home Game), he always man­aged to bal­ance riotous humour with believ­able pathos, a bal­ance not many can pull off. His nov­els could be dev­as­tat­ing­ly fun­ny, but it was always root­ed in char­ac­ter. And his abil­i­ty to cre­ate char­ac­ters of depth was astound­ing. The bloat­ed musi­cian in Whale Music, the delud­ed magi­cians in The Spir­it Cab­i­net, the grand elo­quence of King Leary him­self; Paul’s gift for char­ac­ter was just that, a true gift that he shared with us all.

Paul Quar­ring­ton has passed away, but his work will live on. I hate like hell that he won’t be around to share more sto­ries with us, but I love him for the tales he told.

We’ll miss you, Paul.